Catching up over Pumpkin

Posted by    |  January 29, 2012  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients

Oh for shame.  I’m publishing two recipes that use ingredients that are post-season.  If I hadn’t frozen so many cranberries and roasted, pureed and frozen so much pumpkin, I might have thought better of publishing these recipes.  However, I keep pulling out my laptop and opening up the recipes in Word, so why the hell not just put them on Read more

Perfect Gifts for People You Barely Know

Posted by    |  July 22, 2011  |  Filed under: Foodlife, Home, Ingredients

I can no more give a crappy gift than I can look you in the face and say, “No darling, you are rockin’ that bikini!” whist thinking the strings of your bikini look more like cooking twine on a pork shoulder and your once-sexy tramp stamp reminds me of a Silly Putty newsprint transfer. That’s lying. So is giving a crappy gift.

It’s better to show up empty-handed to a dinner party than bring something cheap and thoughtless. For that matter, I’d rather you graciously show up empty-handed to my dinner party than bring me that packet of cheesy novelty cocktail napkins and the rhinestone-studded wine glass you got for being a top multi-level marketing achiever. I really won’t notice your empty hands. I’ll be annoyed at having to dispose of a lame gift. Read more

Keeping Summer’s Berry Romance Alive

Posted by    |  June 21, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients, Organization, Technique

Berries are like summer camp romances. They arrive suddenly. They’re sweet and pure with a wholesome allure that everyone understands. They bring back warm memories of fireflies and campfires and barefoot walks in the grass…

Just like summer romances, when the season is over, they’re gone.

For the past few years, my chest freezer has helped me keep the romance alive. I’ve carefully washed the berries in a solution of white vinegar and water (to kill mold spores), air-dried them, hulled them, and laid them out on rimmed cookie sheets to freeze. I’d then scoop the frozen berries into freezer bags for later use. It has been time consuming but totally worth it to have summery tasting berries in the middle of winter.

Once frozen, tender berries are really never good whole again. Even under the best freezing conditions, the jagged, microscopic crystals that form during the freezing process turn a firm, luscious berry into little more than a soggy mush-blob. In their whole, still-frozen state, they’re a nice addition to yogurt and I’ve added them to ice creams, but that’s about it.

Almost every time I make a withdrawal of berries from my freezer, they’re destined for the blender. So why bother freezing them whole? Why not freeze a puree? It turns out that the puree saves freezer space, offers versatility and allows me the convenience of dispensing with unpalatable seeds in raspberries and blackberries.

Frozen berry puree is a brilliant resource. It offers an effortless punch of fruity flavor and color at my fingertips. What do I make with it?
• Strawberry banana smoothies, peach blackberry smoothies and raspberry ricotta smoothies
• Raspberry lemonade
• Blackberry maple syrup
• Blackberry applesauce
• Raspberry mojitos and margaritas
• Frozen strawberry lemonade
• Coulis for finishing desserts
• Popsicles

You might notice the conspicuous absence of blueberries in the above list. Blueberries are perfectly suitable for pureeing but they get different treatment from me. Because of their thicker skins, blueberries freeze easily without first laying them out on a baking sheets. They also have more non-puree uses. Even frozen, blueberries are great in muffins, pancakes, or added to oatmeal. The same is not true of the berries in the above list.

Freezing fruit purees is as simple as this:
1. Wash and prepare your berries, hulling strawberries and picking through for leaves and stems.
2. Toss the berries in the blender and puree them thoroughly. This is one of those moments when my investment in a VitaMix blender really pays off. They are almost instantaneously pureed silky smooth in the Ferrari of blenders. Those of you driving more of a Volvo may need to stop the blender and stir up your puree to ensure that everything is thoroughly mashed to smithereens.
3. If you’re working with strawberries, you could just pour the puree straight into ice cube trays to freeze. The seeds aren’t particularly bothersome.
4. If you’re working with raspberries or blackberries, you want to remove the seeds. Simply pour the puree into a fine mesh sieve. Using a rubber scraper, wipe the puree back and forth across the mesh to push the juices and pulp through. Keep working until all that’s left is a seedy paste. Then scrape the excess off the bottom of the sieve. If you’re working with a large batch, just dump the paste, briefly rinse out the sieve and start over. It really doesn’t actually take that long and it’s a brainless activity that can be performed whilst returning your mother-in-law’s long neglected phone call.

5. Freeze the puree in ice cube trays. You can actually fill the trays to the top because they don’t expand much. When they’re frozen, just pop the cubes of puree into labeled freezer bags.

Because of their sugar and fiber content, the cubes are easily sliced with a knife. If I’m making a raspberry mojito for myself, I’ll just cut a cube into quarters and plop one into the glass while I muddle the sugar and mint. It thaws in a moment.

Having had to consume or bestow my freezer stash on my friends last fall in preparation for our relocation, I simply used frozen berries from the grocery store to get me through the winter. I thawed them on the countertop and then proceeded. Pounce on a sale if you get the chance

On that note, be opportunistic. In the next two weeks, we’ll be seeing the peak of strawberry season. If the fields are full, the farmers have to sell their yield and prices will reflect that. Further, look for bargains on overripe or bruised fruit.

This technique works beautifully on stone fruits as well. In fact, a few weeks ago my supermarket had some pretty ratty looking, overripe white nectarines priced to sell. I bought a large bag of them, removed their flesh from the pits and pureed them- skins and all.

White nectarine daiquiri, anyone?

Ironically, Sophie asked me to make a summery baked good for a year-end party at school. We settled on lemon bars as the right choice. As I prepared the lemon bars, I was simultaneously working on the mixed-berry puree I was shooting for this post. An idea struck me. Why not swirl in a bit of berry puree?

Cold Turkey on Chicken Breasts

Posted by    |  June 8, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients


Could you and your family go for a whole month without consuming chicken breasts? Does the thought of that startle you, or even horrify you? Does it seem silly?

If such an idea doesn’t faze you, stop reading and go read something from my archive, like this or this. This post is irrelevant to you.

I just posed this question to the friend who inspired this challenge. I think she would have been more eager to go for a month without washing her hair. She tried to bargain with me. Why not just two weeks? I could hear her thoughts, “Gosh, I love Jill and I get what she’s trying to do but this is just going too far.” Read more

The Ricotta Liberation

Posted by    |  March 22, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients

What is ricotta? Define it for me.

Betcha use the word “lasagna.”

Poor ricotta. It has no independent identity. It’s like one of the middle children in a family of 10 kids.  Not that lasagna is lasagna without it, but no one ever really thinks about it. And, yeah, it goes into cannelloni and manicotti and baked ziti, but those are just sort of the poor country cousins of lasagna. Read more

Could ya grab me some dinner if you see some?

Posted by    |  February 26, 2011  |  Filed under: Foodlife, Home, Ingredients

We spent the morning yesterday on a boat charter, doing the obligatory Stingray City stop as well as two other North Sound snorkel stops. Stingray City is a sandbar on the north end of the island where, long ago, fisherman stopped to clean the day’s catch. The local stingray population got wise to the free eats and began to show up in droves. Tourists have now replaced the fishermen. Though it is often a parking lot of loud boats filled with cruiseship passengers in iridescent Oakley wrap-around sunglasses and bodies that glow like hot coals, it is still a “must have” experience. Having done it more times than I can count, I still enjoy the thrill of having stingrays brush up against me like a bunch of cats at suppertime. Read more

Why I Love My Pricey Eats

Posted by    |  February 8, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients

Why-oh-why-oh-why-oh-why did I say I’d write a post about why I pay more for my food?

It sounded like an obvious and simple post to write at the time.

I poured a cup o’ joe and perched my laptop on my knees. I stared at my blinking cursor.  I felt confused.

My reasons are fluid. I originally reached for some of these foods out of curiosity. I now reach for them for their myriad satisfactions. I don’t have hard, fast rules about what I buy. I buy what I enjoy but I enjoy these things for lots of reasons. Read more

The Miracle of Pricey Eats

Posted by    |  January 26, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients

I pay about $8/gallon for milk. I pay around $15 for a roasting chicken. I buy NY strip steaks that cost $16 each.  I can see you getting all bug-eyed as you read this.  There was a woman who used to stop by when Steve, my Hinsdale hook-up for farm-fresh meat, sold meat from my driveway in the off-season.  She came by on occasion just to look.  Her husband “wouldn’t let” her buy such expensive meat.  “A pig is a pig is a pig,” he insisted.

I know that I pay a helluva lot more for the dairy, meat and produce we eat than other families with similar family incomes. No matter.  My food budget is probably the same my neighbor’s.

How can that be?

Read more

Do you know the mushroom man?

Posted by    |  October 15, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients

The day I spy that first winter squash at my local farmer’s market is always a bit sad for me. Butternuts and acorns are like the opening notes of “Last Dance” at a great wedding reception. There’s something about that moment, however, that portends one more great thing before the end of the market: the reappearance of the mushroom man. Read more

Life is like a bowl of berries

Posted by    |  June 22, 2010  |  Filed under: Foodlife, Home, Ingredients


We had the most decadent breakfast Monday morning.  All it really involved was washing some fruit and serving it in a bowl.  But it was indulgent.

The next two weeks are the apex of berry season.  Strawberries are on the outs.  Raspberries and blueberries are debuting.  For just a brief period of time, they’re all appearing together.  This is the time to eat berries with abandon. Read more

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